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Michelle Smith: From Prim to Poledance: Girls, Sex and Popular Culture


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Today’s consumer culture persistently uses girls as icons of sexual attractiveness in advertising, film and television. In the nineteenth century, print media did not dare positively associate girls with sex.

What does the dramatic change in the popular representation of young women mean for how girls are seen? And how does it affect how they see themselves?

We now afford girls the same educational opportunities as boys, yet our popular culture increasingly socialises girls to value themselves not only for their beauty but for their sexual desirability. Did girls fare better in the Victorian era?

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a good rant. Every Thursday, the Wheeler Centre hosts an old-fashioned Speakers’ Corner in the middle of the city, where writers and thinkers can have their say on the topics that won’t let them sleep at night.

Featuring some of our most compelling voices across just about every sector of human endeavour you can imagine, the themes dominating Lunchbox/Soapbox are proudly idiosyncratic. BYO lunch. Ideas provided.


Michelle Smith

Dr Michelle Smith is an ARC postdoctoral fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, where she researches nineteenth-century girls’ literature and culture. She is also a regular media commentator on gender in popular culture, especially in relation to childhoo... Read more


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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.